Malatang could be considered a hotpot that’s served fast food style, but it isn't exactly the hotpot that most people are familiar with.
In Chinese, ‘mala’ means spicy and numbing, and ‘tang’ means boiling hot. The fiery soup originated along the river Yangtze in Sichuan, where people earned their livelihood by towing boats upstream. These people threw ingredients that included raw meat and vegetables together into a pot of boiling water to create a wholesome meal. Over time, seasonings like chilli and Sichuan peppercorns were added. Chinese medicine believes that this concoction combats wet weather. And so, malatang became popular and spread to other parts of China by 2010.
Malatang could be considered a hotpot that’s served fast food style, but it isn't exactly the hotpot that most people are familiar with. It doesn’t involve fishing in broth for meat but rather a personalised portion for everyone. Shops sering malatang in China cook it for customers, while diners are supposed to cook the ingredients for a hotpot themselves. In the US, it is recommended to pick your own ingredients for Malatang and pay by weight, which comes to approximately $3 per 100 grams.
Ingredients for Malatang include fresh noodles, vegetables like mushrooms and lotus root, seafood like squid, prawns and scallops, sliced meat like lamb and beef, tofu and more. Some restaurants even offer tripe. Most malatang restaurants allow diners to ask for the level of spice they desire.
My first brush with Malatang was at a popular Chinese restaurant called M&L in Dublin. M&L specialises in Sichuan cuisine and is one of the few restaurants in Dublin to serve malatang. It comes in a big bowl: lotus root, tofu, mushrooms and glass noodles swimming in a deep red broth. The Sichuan peppercorns add heat, which is exacerbated by dried red chillies. M&L’s malatang tastes very much like hotpot, but is even better. It’s a very welcome bowl of comfort on a dreary, rainy day.